By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn - You Can Find Several Other Reviews By Jack Dignan Here As Well
Upon arriving at the screening for this film on Monday, every audience member was given a paper bag. On this bag read ‘While this film is titled DON’T BREATHE we strong recommend that you do. In case shock and suspense lead to shortness of breath, please hold bag over your mouth and nose and take 6 to 12 natural breaths.’ It’s not the type of thing you expect going into a preview screening for a movie, but it was oh so very effective at putting us in the right mood. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, hoping it was a joke, or get really, really scared. I did both. Did I need to use this bag at all during the duration of the movie? No. No I did not. However, can I see somebody being so terrified during this movie that they’d need to use the bag? Without a doubt.
As is the case for a majority of great horror films, DON’T BREATHE has an incredibly simple plot. While there are certainly exceptions, horror films don’t need to be complicated to be scary. It’s not a plot driven genre, and while horror films such as THE SHINING or more recently THE CONJURING 2 are films that run well over two hours, at their core, they’re still simple plots with sinister motivations. With DON’T BREATHE, the premise is basic. It’s a home invasion movie from the perspective of the invaders, and while that could easily make for an interesting film, DON’T BREATHE has a more horrifying aspect added onto it.
We follow the story of Rocky (Jane Levy). She’s a young woman living in a rundown town with her alcoholic mother and younger sister, Diddy (Emma Bercovici). Because of their mother’s unsafe behaviours, Rocky is trying to save up enough money to move away and take Diddy with her, and she gains this money through robbery, aided by her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and their friend Alex (Dylan Minnette). The three of them hear a story of a blind man (Stephen Lang) who’s got a few hundred thousand dollars just sitting in his house, easy to take. So, they go for it, breaking in and searching for the money, however the task proves to be more difficult when this oh-so-innocent blind man turns out to be a twisted, violent individual.
The film opens with a shot from late into the movie, featuring the blind man dragging Rocky’s unconscious body down the street. It’s a horrifying, enthralling image that sets up what this film is going to be like, yet still, I was not prepared for the true terror that unfolded in this movie. It’s a sick, horrific film that can’t really be described as anything other than being monumentally fucked up. You think you know where this film is going, but wham! The rug is pulled out from underneath you and something so much worse is presented, and it’s safe to say there’s some things that happened in this movie that made everyone in the audience extremely uncomfortable, and I mean that in the best way possible.
If you’ve seen the trailer for this film (if you haven’t, I’d recommend not doing so as it does ruin the suspense in certain moments as I already knew what was about to go down), you know what this film is setting up. Without giving too much away, a great deal of the first half is a game of cat and mouse. It’s the blind man going after these three leads, and there are some solid moments of suspense. With the filmmakers utilizing a number of unique techniques to create it, the film is full of tension.
Unfortunately, however, the first half isn't quite as scary as I wanted it to be, and while I was consistently entertained, I was hoping for a bit more. Not too much more, but just… something a little scarier, perhaps. Then the rest of the film happens, and my god is it messed up. Describing it as terrifying isn’t doing the third act justice. It’s so much more than that, and while I won’t describe anything that happens, it’s simultaneously the best and worst part of the movie. It was sick, and I loved it for having the balls to go where it went.
If there’s one thing all great horror films have in common it’s that they’re all brilliantly directed. From THE THING to ALIEN to THE SHINING, all of these iconic horror films are backed by great directors who have gone up and beyond to send chills down your spine. DON’T BREATHE is directed by Fede Alvarez, the man behind the 2013 EVIL DEAD remake/reboot/sequel (I still stand by my theory that that film is anything but a remake). Personally, I loved that movie. It’s not as good as the original, but in its own right, it’s a solid horror film with some seriously grizzly moments.
EVIL DEAD, undoubtedly, is the more horrific of the two, and probably even the more fun, but in terms of filmmaking, DON’T BREATHE is a far superior film. Alvarez has not only co-written a new and exciting movie with the help of frequent collaborator, Rodo Sayagues, but he’s also directed a beautiful movie. Seriously, the cinematography is off the charts, featuring a number of rather breathtaking long shots, in particular during the initial burglary of the blind man’s house. It’s the shot that never stopped, and I never wanted it to.
As the film is confined to just one location, the cast is rather small. While there are a couple of supporting cast members used to introduce certain plot points and add depth to the protagonist’s lives, there’s really just four cast members, and they’re all fantastic. Jane Levy, the breakthrough star of the EVIL DEAD remake, nails this character. She nails both the drama and the fear, creating investment in her character early on, before going on to showcase her true capabilities as an actress. When it comes to the third act, she truly shows range, and her performance blew me away.
Tagging along with her through the horrors are Daniel Zovatto, who was in another great horror film recently titled IT FOLLOWS and Dylan Minnette, who previously starred in films such as PRISONERS and GOOSEBUMPS. Minnette gives his best performance to date with this film, even if his character defies logic about twenty times throughout the movie. He was likable and full of range, working as the voice of reason in this horrible scenario. Zovatto, as well, is good, but his character is a bit one dimensional and underused. He doesn’t get a lot to do, and while that was expected, I was actually quite glad, as he’s without a doubt the least likable of the leads, excluding the blind man, obviously.
Speaking of this infamous blind man, Stephen Lang has transformed himself into one terrifying individual. My friend, after seeing the movie, even said that he won’t be able to see Lang in a positive light anymore, simply because of the things his character does in this film. His performance is pure insanity, and the character is even more so. All this guy needed to do was stand still and I was trembling with fear, and this happens several times throughout. His presence was highly intimidating, even without having too many lines.
There aren’t too many horror films out there that are remotely similar to DON’T BREATHE. Fede Alveraz has conjured up a horrific, original, layered and smart movie that will leave you trembling with fear. It’s not the be all and end all of the horror genre, like many lucky US citizens who got this movie last week will lead you to believe, but it’s certainly a big surprise and a lot of fun to watch. If you’re after something a little more intense than such teen-appealing films as LIGHTS OUT or THE VISIT, but can’t handle intense amounts of gore, DON’T BREATHE is the perfect combination. It’s a seamless mix of both, and this mix makes for one hell of a movie.
3 1/2 Stars